BJP Loses its Moral Compass in the Blood Sport of Politics

The Modi government has brought a 40 year struggle against cruelty to bulls to nought with the mere stroke of a pen.

It took the Bharatiya Janata Party less than 24 months in power to begin to look exactly like the Congress. If the terrorist attack on the Pathankot Air Base makes Rajnath Singh look like Shivraj Patil and Ajit Doval like P. Chidambaram, if Prakash Javadekar – who tweaked the environment ministry’s 2011 notification to bring back jallikattu – is only Jayanthi Natrajan with a beard, then in his supreme inaction and silence, Modi has transformed himself, in harmony with the larger picture, to look like Manmohan Singh.

The finer lines of distinction between the Congress and BJP were washed away when the BJP on Friday disregarded the Supreme Court order of May 7, 2014 banning jallikattu and, through executive order, lifted the ban on this cruel and decadent sport. It was Shah Bano all over again and the worst losers in this shameful, retrograde act are the hapless bulls, the sanctity of the orders of the Supreme Court, and, by extension, democracy through rule of law.

With this single act of thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court, the BJP – like the Congress before – has sent the unfortunate signal once again that court orders are binding only upon ordinary citizens, and governments are above the law; lifting the ban on jallikattu by circumventing the order of the apex court has put the executive on a collision course with the judiciary.

When senior ministers in the Modi sarkar – including Prakash Javadekar and Pon Radhakrishnan and MPs from Tamil Nadu – began issuing statements last September to the effect that the BJP government at the Centre will bring back jallikattu in time for the festival of Pongal, the media asked animal rights activists whether the lifting of the ban was feasible. My view at the time was that jallikattu could come back in January 2016 only if the BJP government did one of the following four things:

  1. File a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the May 7, 2014 order banning jalliakttu
  2. Remove bulls from the environment ministry’s list of animals which are not performing animals and which therefore may not be trained or exhibited or used in sport or entertainment
  3. Amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960) in such a way that cruelty to bulls in jallikattu, rekla, kambala and bullock cart races in Maharashtra are kept out of the purview of the PCA Act
  4. Dissolve the Animal Welfare Board of India – which the environment ministry was obliged by the Supreme Court to consult before amending in any manner the list of performing animals.  Javadekar, as minister, could then appoint a new board with members who would go along with the his views on history, culture and tradition and what constitutes cruelty to animals.

In the end, the Modi government did something so absurd that were it not so tragic, would be laughable. Adhering to the SC directive not to effect any change to the list animals which cannot be used in sport or entertainment,  Javadekar kept bulls on the list but added two new paragraphs that while in general bulls may not be deemed to be performing animals, the government is making an exception for bulls used in jallikattu, rekla, kambala and bullock cart races. The million dollar question which remains is – what other bulls are there?

The other animals in this list are lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and panthers; circus animals in short. By keeping bulls on the list but making an exception for bulls for the explicit purpose of jallikattu, the next logical move would be for circus owners to rush to the Supreme Court praying for an order that would direct the Modi sarkar to adopt the same measure with regard to other animals too. Javadekar can now be expected not to make any changes to the list but to issue another notification with two additional paragraphs saying lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and panthers are animals that may not be made to perform – except for those that are used in circuses to do unnatural things like playing football, smoking cigarettes, walking on two legs, swaying to Bollywood songs and riding a motorcycle.

Lifting the ban on jallikattu is not the only or first anti-animal decision taken by Prakash Javadekar. A few months ago, he enraged animal activists and all sensitive and sensible people when he declared that his government was considering notifying certain animals as vermin; this meant that the government could order the killing of certain species of animals in a specific locality for a fixed period of time These animals included the wild boar and nilgai. This extreme and ill-considered policy decision was Javadekar’s response to what he called “growing man-animal conflict”. The state is the ultimate protector of all life and of the environment. Javadekar has the dubious distinction of being the first minister in the country’s history to sanction the killing of wildlife; thus far we do not know what the Prime Minister’s views are on this state-sanctioned killing of animals.

Legal history of jallikattu in our courts

The South Indian Humanitarian League and Blue Cross of India in the last 39 years repeatedly moved the Petitions’ Committee of the Tamil Nadu state legislature to ban jallikattu and other sport using bulls, with little success. The case reached the state’s courts only in 2004.

Subdued and Tormented. Credit: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr CC 2.0

Subdued and Tormented. Credit: Vinoth Chandar/Flickr CC 2.0

In 2004, Justice FM Ibrahim Khalifulla of the Madras high court  (now a Supreme Court judge) passed an order on rekla with the rider that the organisers should cause no injury to the animals. The learned judge pronounced this oxymoron of an order in response to a petition seeking court directive to the police to permit the conduct of rekla in connection with a temple festival in Ramanathapuram. The petitioner went to the high court because the local police refused permission to conduct this brutal sport.

In 2006, another petitioner who was refused permission by the police to conduct jallikattu, approached the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court for court directive to permit the event; another petition in the same court was filed by the father of a man who was killed during jallikattu the previous year.

This time, Justice R Banumathi (now a Supreme Court judge), taking note of the purview of the PCA Act in its entirety, in a stern order banned “all types of jallikattu, rekla race, oxen race or any other entertainment involving causing cruelty to animals”. Justice Banumathi, adhering to the letter and spirit of the PCA Act, went beyond jallikattu which alone was the object of the petition, and pronounced an order banning all sport involving use of bulls.

The petitioner, who was seeking court permission to conduct jallikattu, went in appeal against Justice Banumathi’s order and the case was heard by a division bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and PPS Janarthana Raja. On March 9, 2007, the division bench set aside the order of the single judge and allowed jallikattu with conditions attached to the order – conditions which applied to ‘Performing Animals’ under the PCA Act.

The Tamil Nadu government was made respondent in the case and the argument placed by it before the court was that jallikattu must be allowed because it was a huge tourist attraction and some of the larger venues where it is held, like Alanganallur in Madurai district, attracted thousands of foreign tourists every year. Tourism is big business and if the tourists are foreigners then the business is even bigger. Alanganallur jallikattu is a state-sponsored event and the division bench, completely ignoring the letter and spirit of the PCA Act, delivered a judgment which in effect meant that the human abuse of animals would not be prevented but only ‘monitored and regulated’.

The division bench stipulated monitoring of jallikattu by the local magistrate, district collector, veterinary officers, AWBI volunteers and police. The conditions also included the following:

  • Owners of bulls must register their animals with the Animal Welfare Board of India one month in advance

  • Bulls must be certified by a vet as being healthy and fit to be allowed to participate in the events lasting several months across several districts of Tamil Nadu

  • At every event bull tamers will be tested by doctors for alcohol consumption

  • Bulls should not be given alcohol prior to the event

  • Bulls must not be administered steroids and the veterinary doctors stationed at the venue must ensure that bulls have not been abused by owners rubbing chilly-powder, tobacco and mud in their eyes, tails and genitals

  • All events must receive written permission from the local magistrate

It also placed bulls on the list of ‘Performing Animals’ ostensibly so that, as per guidelines regulating the use of performing animals, bulls used for jallikattu too may be monitored and the sport could be regulated. The AWBI saw through the ruse of labelling bulls as ‘Performing Animals’ simply to facilitate the conduct of jallikattu, rekla and other sport and took the case to the Supreme Court seeking an immediate stay on the order of the division bench in the Madras high court, and demanding a complete ban on jallikattu.

Acting on the Special Leave Petition of the AWBI, the Supreme Court bench of Justices RV Raveendran and AK Patnaik, in its interim order of July 27, 2007, first stayed the order of the division bench of the high court, and on January 11, 2008 pronounced its final order by banning jallikattu but permitting rekla – which is bloodier and more cruel because each race lasts for several minutes. In fact, some organisers hang spiked, metal thorns from the yoke which swing on both sides of the bulls’ necks, drawing blood.

The final order of the Supreme Court was delivered on January 11, 2008, very close to Pongal but with enough time given to the state government and organisers of jallikattu to appeal against the order if they so wished; and of course they did.

On January, 13, 2008 the Tamil Nadu government filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking revision and modification of the January 11 order. The same bench comprising Justices Raveendran and Patnaik, which had pronounced the original  order, heard the revision petition and on January 15th, the day of Pongal, delivered another order (an interim order, for those who like cold comfort and cold soup) allowing jallikattu to be held. As a sop which convinced no one and as a palliative which cured nothing, Justice Raveendran placed conditions on the conduct of the sport – conditions which the AWBI proved conclusively in court are observed more in the breach and which have been proved to be completely ineffective.

In 2008, the letter, spirit and purpose of the PCA Act had been ignored yet again by our courts, to the detriment of animal interests and their well-being. The AWBI promptly filed another Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court seeking restoration of the order dated January 11, 2008 which had banned jallikattu and allowed rekla.

Even as the case was pending in the Supreme Court and the courts were seen to be dragging their feet, the Tamil Nadu government took advantage of the delay and in an act of defiance, passed the TN Jallikattu Regulation Act, 2009. The Act was rushed through and with no protests or dissent from any political party inside the assembly.

For fear of raising a storm among animal welfare organisations and animal rights activists, the Tamil Nadu government by-passed due process by not offering the Bill for public scrutiny before passing it in the state assembly. Stake-holders and parties affected by the passing of the Bill were not informed about the impending Act and were denied the right to express their views and concerns. This was gross violation of due process that is mandatory before converting a Bill into an Act. It bears mention that till date the TNJR Act (2009) has not obtained presidential assent.

The Tamil Nadu Act has to be seen as an amendment to the PCA Act 1960; and when any state or Union Territory brings in an amendment to a Central act then it is mandatory for the state to not only receive the governor’s assent but also the President’s. Readers must bear this in mind for what followed in the Madurai bench of the Madras high court in January 2012.

As the case moved at snail’s pace in the Supreme Court with ineffective and repetitive interim orders delivered between long intervals, once in November 2010 and again in March 2011 – by the same division bench in the Supreme Court making the same polite noises about regulation, monitoring and supervision – the trauma of the bulls continued with no end in sight.

From 2004 when the case first went to the courts, up until January 2012, year after year these debased sporting events have been held, uninterrupted, not just in Tamil Nadu and Assam but also in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra.

Law cannot be different things to different people

In July 2011, Jairam Ramesh, who was minister of state for environment and forests, earned the gratitude of all animal welfare organisations and activists when he placed bulls on the list of animals which shall not be deemed to be Performing Animals.

There is a history behind the classification of some animals as Performing Animals and those that may not be considered to be Performing Animals.

On March 14, 1991, the Ministry of Environment & Forests issued a notification under Section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, banning with immediate effect the training and exhibition of all animals. The notification was stayed by the Delhi high court on an appeal filed by the Indian Circus Federation. Overnight, a new organisation came into being – the Circus Fans Association, purely owned and subscribed to by circus owners.

The ministry filed a counter-petition in the high court to uphold the ban, and all action on the list proscribing use of animals for purposes of exhibition and entertainment moved to the courts.

Not wanting to be seen to be unresponsive to serious concerns about the innate cruelty and misery of the lives of animals used in circuses, and to get around the paralysis inflicted upon the government because the matter was now in the high court, the Government of India, in the Department of Environment and Forest, issued a second notification dated October 14, 1998 (Annexure-1) under Section 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 restricting the exhibition or training of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions with effect from the date of publication of the notification.

Before he was summarily removed from the ministry, Jairam Ramesh included bulls on the list of animals which may not be deemed to be Performing Animals and may therefore not be allowed to be trained, exhibited or used in sport. For good measure, the ministry added that bulls meant cows, the progeny of cows, bulls, buffalo and oxen; the gazette notification also added that oxen included both castrated and not castrated bulls and oxen.

If the earlier list proscribing the use of bears, lions, tigers, monkeys and panthers effectively banned circus owners from owning or using these animals to perform in circuses, it follows that this list should have brought all sport using bulls – jallikattu, rekla, manju virattu, erudhotam, buffalo fight – to an immediate end with effect from the day of the notification of the list in the Gazette Extraordinary.

But this did not happen. As we shall see, the law is different things for different people.

A kambala race. Credit: Arun Keerthi K. Barboza/Flickr CC 2.0

A kambala race. Credit: Arun Keerthi K. Barboza/Flickr CC 2.0

Armed with the July 2011 notification, the AWBI and this writer filed two separate petitions in the Madurai bench of the Madras high court asking the court to ban jallikattu. The case was presented in court on January 12, 2012 by advocates Yashod Vardhan and Jayesh Dolia, who presented a perfect and legally air-tight case before the division bench of Justices Chitra Venkatraman and R Karuppiah.

Even before Vardhan could sit down after a brilliant exposition on why jallikattu could not be allowed to be conducted because it was legally unsustainable on every count, Justice Chitra Venkatraman, not once but three times, announced that the division bench was banning jallikattu with immediate effect.

Within moments of Justice Venkatraman saying this, there was mayhem in the court. The judges were surrounded by shouting men with the Additional. Advocate General shouting loudest to the judge that she should not put down the order in writing as this would cause law and order problems in the state and that the court should grant the state government 24 hours to be heard on the issue.

On January 13, 2012, the division bench headed by Justice Chitra Venkataraman, if we cut through the verbiage and inane palliatives, did a complete turnaround from its position on the previous day and allowed jallikattu with the same repetitive injunction that the state government and the organisers abide by Supreme Court directives on its conduct.

A dog is not a monkey is not a bear is not an elephant

The PCA Act is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The operative part is ‘prevention of cruelty’. This is the letter, spirit and purpose of the law. There cannot be different or contrary interpretations of the law among judges in the same court, among judges of the high courts and the Supreme Court and by the same judges in any court on different days.

But as we shall see, for judges of the Madras high court and the Supreme Court, the PCA Act is a dog is a monkey is a bear is an elephant; intriguingly, a dog is also not a dog on another day.

  • When Justice Ibrahim Khalifulla allowed rekla in 2004, and permitted jallikattu by default, the PCA Act was applied selectively in favour of bulls in one sport and permitted cruelty against other bulls in other sports
  • If Justice Banumathi understood the PCA Act for what it is in its entirety – that Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded that the law should prevent cruelty – then Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Janarthana Raja understood Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to mean that cruelty against animals may be permitted as long as the cruelty can be regulated, monitored and supervised
  • The Supreme Court stayed the order of the division bench of Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and Janarthana Raja in July 2007 because it understood Prevention of Cruelty to Animals differently from them
  • On January 11, 2008 when Justices Raveendran and Patnaik of the Supreme Court banned jallikattu but explicitly permitted rekla, the judges applied the PCA Act differently for the bulls used for jallikattu and bulls used in rekla
  • When Justices Raveendran and Patnaik banned jallikattu on January 11th 2008 and then did a complete turnaround on the 15th and pronounced the order permitting jallikattu, the Supreme Court understood the PCA Act to be something on the 11th and a totally different, even exact opposite thing on the 15th
  • Justices Chitra Venkatraman and Karuppiah verbally banned jallikattu three times on 12th January, 2012, and then in a complete turnaround exactly like the Supreme Court in January 2008, passed the exact opposite order the very next day.

The brilliant and well-reasoned order delivered by Justice KS Radhakrishnan on May 7, 2014 brought to an end a 40-year struggle to stop the abuse of bulls in sporting events which, in the manner they are held today, bear little resemblance to the rural sport described in ancient Tamil literature. But the Modi government and BJP, which otherwise talk so much about cow protection and banning the slaughter of cows, has rushed in to allow the torture of bulls in a cynical display of political opportunism.

It should serious concern to all sensitive people in the country that not a single political party sees cruelty in using animals for sport.

It should cause Modi bhakts serious concern that the Prime Minister has made a conscious decision to ignore the voluminous documentation – including photographs and videos of the physical and mental abuse of bulls not only during jallikattu and other sport but the unconscionable psychological and emotional abuse of the bulls during long years of training to make them jallikattu bulls.

The valour of men who “tame the bulls” is predicated on the terror and fear of the animals that are forced to flee or fight back when faced by a gang of men moving threateningly towards them. The Modi government may think it can regulate the sport; but Javadekar and all jallikattu supporters must ponder over whether regulating the event can end the fear and terror that the bulls suffer.

Jallikattu was banned by the Supreme Court. It has been allowed to come back by a stroke of the government’s pen. Animal activists have the same sense of fear and terror in the pits of their stomachs as Pongal draws near. The Modi sarkar has legitimised human sport and entertainment on the bogus premise of culture and tradition and at the cost of animal well-being. Modi and his government have lost their moral compass.

Radha Rajan is a Chennai-based animal rights activist